Jonathan Simon, Behtash Babadi, Samira Anderson, Stefanie Kulchinsky

Funding Agency

NIH National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders




A new five-year, $2.88M grant from the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders at the National Institutes of Health will bring researchers another step closer to fully understanding the system within the brain that turns heard sounds into intelligible language. The ultimate goal is being able to develop better hearing assistive devices.

Professor Jonathan Simon (ECE/ISR/Biology) is the principal investigator for the grant, “Multilevel Auditory Processing of Continuous Speech, from Acoustics to Language.” Co-PIs are Associate Professor Behtash Babadi (ECE/ISR), Associate Professor Samira Anderson (HESP), and Stefanie Kuchinsky (HESP affiliate).

The researchers are aware that the brain plays a significant role in helping a person compensate for poor quality signals coming through the ears—whether the degradation is due to complex acoustics, hearing loss or both. And they already understand how specific parts of the brain function in processing language. Anderson, for example, is an expert in subcortical auditory processing, while Simon has done extensive work in early cortical auditory processing. Kuchinsky specializes in “auditory effort”—not just whether the brain can compensate for suboptimal input, but how much effort the brain must expend during the compensation process. And Babadi’s expertise is in neural connectivity, the flow and give and take of information among the areas of the brain.

The researchers hope to find the acoustic and neural conditions under which intelligible speech is perceived. They believe a grounded understanding of how speech processing progresses through a network path, and learning what compensating mechanisms the brain employs to perceive speech under degraded hearing conditions will result in foundational principles that can be used to develop “brain-aware” and automatically tuning hearing assistive devices for persons with hearing and related disorders. Read the longer story here.